Changing Organizational Cultures
What should be done when organizational culture, for whatever reason, is faltering?
Poor organizational culture can be disastrous for a firm, since it may cause workers
- to lose focus and commitment, and
- create communication problems that
- prevent forward progress on any number of different kinds of projects.
In addition, it hampers recruiting efforts since poor organizational culture makes for an unpleasant working environment. Talented workers, then, may leave the firm for one with a better culture. Few things, then, are more important for a leader than to create a pleasant and effective organizational culture.
Business leaders have known for years that organizational culture is extremely difficult to change for precisely the reason discussed above. Making policy changes may influence corporate culture, but those changes will only impact the organizational culture if they are wholeheartedly and unanimously embraced by the people on the ground level.
Organizational cultures are unpredictable. It is not always possible to know in advance how a particular policy change will influence the overall culture of the team, department, or firm. In addition, organizational culture is largely defined by the personalities and relationships of the individuals within the organization, and these are mysterious and difficult to change. Certain managers may have easy, effective partnerships with their employees, but not with one another – in the effort to change organizational culture, what possible solutions could there be for such a problem?
HR professionals have been developing best practices in this area for years, but still their decisions require empathy and considerable finesse. HR decisions can take a long time to implement, especially on the large scale, so there is no way to experiment or make agile adjustments to emergent problems.
For all of these reasons, it’s exceedingly difficult to change organizational culture from the top down – that is, to make changes in corporate culture that will then translate into changes in organizational culture. But there are ways to accomplish it. The top two are:
1 Create An Environment for Productive Changes
Ensure that unstructured time is respected, especially in industries where creativity matters. One of the easiest ways to bring about a maladaptive organizational culture is to assume that downtime is always unproductive time. Work-related activity often happens in unorthodox ways, such as over meals, during collective exercise, or while relaxing in pleasant physical environments. This is the environment in which
- innovations are born
- lines of communication are opened, and
- collective values are reinforced.
Thus, while keeping a close eye on employees is an important task for any manager. It is equally important not to stifle opportunities for unstructured interactions – since these are the most fertile ground for productive changes in organizational culture.
2 Harmonize Values
Second, harmonize employees’ values with the values of the firm, either by changing the overall values of the organization or by hiring people who identify with preexisting values (or both). Over the past several years, leaders in many industries have discovered that it is much easier to motivate workers when they understand their job as more meaningful than a simple paycheck.
As more and more people in the workforce are intellectually engaged and socially conscious (due in some measure to the proliferation of college-level degrees), it becomes imperative for organizations to define themselves with reference to traditional values of
- social responsibility, and
- ethical competition.
If workers see their firm as a force for good in the world, they are far more likely to bring commitment and dedication to their jobs – and this is largely, if not entirely, a function of organizational culture.
Benefit from the effectivity and flexibility of SEE IT! DO IT! FEEL IT!® to harmonize the values in your organization.
Interview with Ronald Heifetz (Harvard Kennedy School of Government): “Adaptive Change: What’s Essential and What’s Expendable?” (Link)